Hayley Serpa/Contributing Writer
If you’ve ever attended a public high school in South Florida, you are no stranger to the presence of military recruiters on campus. They set up booths in well-trafficked areas and charmingly chat with the students walking by. Their spotless, shining shoes and freshly clipped haircuts let you know that they are all business.
Yet, the presence of military recruiters seems to be solely confined to lower-income schools.
Having attended both a private and public high school in Miami, I can tell you from firsthand experience that not once did military recruiters appear at my private school. There wasn’t even a JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program. When I transferred to a Title I public school, I was utterly shocked at the teenagers waking up before sunset to participate in JROTC.
What could possibly make these kids want to participate in this program, I wondered at the time. When I asked some JROTC members, they all had strikingly similar responses: they had joined JROTC for the scholarship opportunities that would be available to them after graduation.
But, there was a condition for receiving the full-ride scholarship. The student had to join the military, and after receiving their bachelor’s, they would be assigned a higher-ranking position in their chosen branch.
For most students, the military is a pathway out of poverty. They don’t have the means from which to pay for their education, so they enlist. The military covers everything, from housing and tuition, to food. The Pentagon knows this and they use it to their advantage, actively targeting students from lower-income communities.
A study was conducted during the 2011-2012 school year to record the number of times army recruiters visited two high schools in Connecticut; one being higher-income, and one being low-income. Army recruiters visited the higher-income school just four times. Meanwhile, those same recruiters visited the low-income school over 40 times. Both schools were in the same district, the only difference between them being the median wealth of the students’ families.
Miami is no exception. Around 40 to 65 percent of the country’s JROTC programs are currently found in the southeastern United States. This is no mistake, as the southeast has a higher minority population than up north. The military not only offers to fully pay for your education, but to also fast-track your citizenship status. For immigrants, (many of which are concentrated in Miami), this is no doubt an appealing prospect. One would almost say that it is impossible to say no to.
This is not to say that I am anti-military recruitment. Military careers support thousands of families in the U.S. and that is indispensable. However, they are disproportionately recruiting at low-income schools because they know that higher-income students don’t need the financial security that joining the military offers. These are young teenagers who feel forced to join so that they can live a better life and help their families.
Instead of forcing students to rely on the military for a higher quality of life, state governments should begin by reallocating funds towards improving educational resources in lower-income communities. New books, better technology and higher quality teachers are just some ways in which these funds can improve the life and education of these teenagers. This investment will encourage interest in following their own personal goals and becoming their own individuals.
To the military, there are no individuals. There are only faceless names on a sheet of paper.
Featured image by Arctic Warrior on Flickr.
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